Ikeda eyes 3rd LPGT crown,merit lead, too

THE touring ladies step up their drive in the final stretch of this year’s Ladies Philippine Golf Tour (LPGT) beginning with the International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) Valley Golf Challenge Wednesday in Antipolo City with Chihiro Ikeda going all out not only for a third leg championship but also the Order of Merit lead.

With current Order of Merit (OOM) frontrunner Chanelle Avaricio opting to vie in the Thailand Ladies Masters, also slated this week, as part of her buildup for the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) Q-School Stage II next month, Ikeda looks to get past the three-leg winner in the rankings with another victory or at least a strong finish at the demanding Valley South course.

“No expectations but I’ll do my best. I’ve trained hard for this and hope my short game and putting will hold in all three days,” said Ikeda, who had to survive a horrendous final round 77 to hold off Ababa by two at Eagle Ridge Aoki last July.

Avaricio leads the OOM race with earnings of P522,500 with Ikeda, the 2016 OOM champion, just behind with P485,250, and Harmie Constantino and Sarah Ababa within striking distance with P368,250 and P347,625 winnings, respectively.

That makes this week’s battle crucial with Ikeda, Constantino and Ababa also have to deal with a host of talented amateurs likewise out to fuel their own title aspirations in the 54-hole, P750,000 championship put up by ICTSI and organized by Pilipinas Golf Tournaments Inc.

But the Fil-Japanese, who snapped a long spell with a three-stroke win over Avaricio at Mount Malarayat last May, is in for an early test of skills and will as the Manila Southwoods-backed ace drew top amateur Mafy Singson in the 9:10 a.m. flight with Lesley Icoy.

Singson and Rianne Malixi, along with four other amateurs, are also tipped to crowd the pros with both national team mainstays seeking a second LPGT crown this year. 

Singson, coming off a World Amateurs stint in France, topped the Splendido Taal leg last May, while Malixi bested multi-titled Princess Superal at Luisita last March.

The 15-year-old Malixi, toughened up by a three-month stint in the US, also braces for a spirited battle with former two-leg winner Constantino and rising star Martina Miñoza, while last year’s Highlands leg champion Sunshine Baraquiel slugs it out with Ababa and Marvi Monsalve at 9 a.m.

Amateur Eagle Ace Superal, meanwhile, mixes it up with Majorie Pulumbarit and Apple Fudolin at 9:30 a.m.; Gretchen Villacencio, Kristine Fleetwood and Eva Miñoza clash at 9:40 a.m.; and Lovelyn Guioguio, Pamela Mariano and Lucy Landicho tangle at 9:50 a.m.

A duel of amateurs among Abigail Abarcas, Althea Paige Gaccion and Julianna Go is set at 10 a.m.